MINNEAPOLIS (WROC) — Each day on this page we will update readers on the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.
Ex-cop Derek Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death.
Floyd, a Black man, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Video footage shows Chauvin pressing his knee into a handcuffed Floyd’s neck, with Floyd repeatedly claiming that he could not breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
The trial will be streamed online because of the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to last weeks.
Monday April 19, 2021
Prosecutor: Chauvin ‘had to know’ Floyd’s life was in danger
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Officer Derek Chauvin “had to know” he was squeezing the life out of George Floyd as the Black man cried out over and over that he couldn’t breathe and finally fell silent, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as closing arguments began at Chauvin’s murder trial.
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” Steve Schleicher said, referring to the excruciating bystander video of Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck last May for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as bystanders yelled at the white officer to get off.
Chauvin removed his COVID-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial as his lawyer, Eric Nelson, launched into the defense closing argument, saying that prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Nelson said the standard for judging the officer is not what he should have done or could have done differently, but this: “What were the facts that were known to this officer at the precise moment he used force and, considering all of the totality of circumstances and facts known to the officer … what would a reasonable police officer have done?”
The dueling arguments began with Minneapolis on edge against a repeat of the violence that erupted in the city and around the U.S. last spring over Floyd’s death.
The defense contends the 46-year-old Floyd died of underlying heart disease and his illegal use of fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Replaying portions of the bystander video and other footage as he made his case, Schleicher dismissed some of the defense theories as “nonsense,” saying Chauvin’s pressure on Floyd killed him by constricting his breathing.
He rejected the drug overdose argument, the contention that police were distracted by what they saw as hostile onlookers, the notion that Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and the suggestion that Floyd suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.
The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence.”
“Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Schleicher asked the racially diverse jury.
Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe, and continued to kneel on Floyd after he stopped drawing breath and had no pulse — even after the ambulance arrived.
Floyd was “just a man, lying on the pavement, being pressed upon, desperately crying out. A grown man crying out for his mother. A human being,” Schleicher said. He said Chauvin “heard him, but he just didn’t listen.”
Chauvin was “on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. “He had to know.”
The prosecutor said Floyd “was not a threat to anyone.”
“He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He wasn’t trying to do anything to anyone. Facing George Floyd that day that did not require one ounce of courage. And none was shown on that day. No courage was required,” Schleicher said. “All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown on that day.”
Chauvin, wearing a light gray suit with a blue shirt and blue tie, focused on taking notes during the prosecution’s arguments, only occasionally raising his eyes from his notepad. An unidentified woman occupied the single seat set aside in the pandemic-spaced courtroom for a Chauvin supporter.
Floyd’s brother Philonise represented the family in court, as he often has throughout the trial.
Schleicher quickly got to the heart of the case — whether Chauvin’s actions were those of a reasonable officer in similar circumstances — saying a reasonable officer with Chauvin’s training and experience should have known a handcuffed Floyd did not pose a risk to officers.
He said Floyd, who was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market, was terrified of being put into the tiny backseat of the squad car when he struggled with officers. The prosecutor played video of Floyd being pulled out of the car and forced to the ground — noting that he was on his knees and said thank you
“A reasonable officer should’ve recognized Floyd wasn’t trying to escape. … The problem was the back of the car. Just like George Floyd tried to explain over and over,” the prosecutor said.
He also noted that Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Floyd onto his side.
Several witnesses, including one for the defense, said Floyd might have lived if CPR had been administered as soon as he lost a pulse.
“He could have listened to the bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better,” said Schleicher, adding that even a 9-year-old bystander knew it was dangerous.
“Conscious indifference, indifference. Do you want to know what indifference is and sounds like?” Schleicher asked before playing a video of Chauvin replying, “Uh-huh” several times as Floyd cries out.
The prosecution took about an hour and 45 minutes to make its case, with Schleicher ending his argument by saying: “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
The anonymous jury will deliberate in a downtown courthouse surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire, in a city heavily fortified by National Guard members and just days after a new round unrest over the police killing of a 20-year-old Black man in a nearby suburb. Some businesses boarded up their storefronts with plywood.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All three charges require the jury to conclude that Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death — and that his use of force was unreasonable.
To convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors don’t have to prove Chauvin intended to harm Floyd, only that he deliberately applied force, which resulted in harm.
Second-degree intentional murder carries up to 40 years in prison, third-degree murder 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter 10 years. Sentencing guidelines call for far less time, including 12 1/2 years on either murder count.
Thursday April 15, 2021
Defense rests without Chauvin testimony at murder trial
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The defense at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd rested its case Thursday without putting Chauvin on the stand, presenting a total of two days of testimony to the prosecution’s two weeks.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday morning, after which the jury will get the case.
Before the jury was brought into the courtroom, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, informed the judge that he would not testify, saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to take the stand.
It would have been the first time Chauvin publicly told his side of the story.
“Is this your decision not to testify?” Judge Peter Cahill asked.
“It is, your honor,” Chauvin said.
The prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2%, within the normal range.
And with that, both sides finished presenting their cases.
After closing arguments, the racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at the barbed-wire-ringed courthouse, with Minneapolis on edge against a repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday, and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
The question of whether Chauvin would testify was the subject of weeks of speculation.
The risks were high: Testifying could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But taking the stand could have also given the jury the opportunity to see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel. He would have been able to remove the mask he has had to wear at the defense table.
The only time Chauvin has been publicly heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene last May. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision not to testify was announced a day after a forensic pathologist testifying for the defense said that Floyd died of a sudden heart rhythm disturbance as a result of his heart disease. That contradicted prosecution experts who said Floyd succumbed to a lack of oxygen from the way he was pinned down.
The defense witness, Dr. David Fowler, said Wednesday that the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, and possibly carbon monoxide poisoning, were contributing factors in the 46-year-old Black man’s death last May.
Fowler also testified that he would classify the manner of death “undetermined,” rather than homicide, as the county’s chief medical examiner ruled. He said Floyd’s death had too many conflicting factors, some of which could be ruled homicide and some that could be considered accidental.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after his arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market. The video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the U.S.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the white officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or neck area for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
But Fowler said that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd was “nowhere close to his airway” and that Floyd’s speaking and groaning showed that his airway was still open. He also testified that Chauvin’s knee was not applied with enough pressure to cause any bruises or scrapes on Floyd’s neck or back.
Wednesday April 14, 2021
Expert blames George Floyd’s death on heart rhythm problem
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — George Floyd died of a sudden heart rhythm problem due to his heart disease while being restrained by police, a retired forensic pathologist testified for the defense Wednesday at former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, contradicting several experts who said Floyd succumbed to a lack of oxygen.
Dr. David Fowler, a former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland and now a member of a consulting firm, said the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, and possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust, were contributing factors. He said Floyd’s heart disease included high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries.
“All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” he said on the second day of the defense case.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson is trying to prove that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because Chauvin’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or neck area for 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man lay pinned to the pavement on his stomach last May, his hands cuffed behind his back.
Nelson asked Fowler about Floyd’s narrowed arteries, enlarged heart, use of methamphetamine, the stress of the situation he was in, his high blood pressure and other factors. Fowler said all of them could have caused Floyd’s heart to work harder and led it to suddenly stop.
Previous witnesses have noted that a sudden heart rhythm problem does not necessarily produce visible signs on autopsy but can be inferred from circumstances such as a victim suddenly clutching one’s chest and collapsing.
Nelson questioned Fowler extensively about carbon monoxide, which displaces oxygen in the bloodstream of people who breathe it in. Fowler said it could have contributed to oxygen depletion in Floyd, noting that he was facing the tailpipe end of a vehicle. But there is no way to know for sure because, he acknowledged, Floyd’s blood was never tested for carbon monoxide.
Nelson similarly tried to introduce another possible explanation on Tuesday when he raised questions about excited delirium, or what a witness described as a potentially lethal condition that can include agitation, incoherent speech and extraordinary strength.
Several top Minneapolis police officials, including the police chief, have testified that Chauvin used excessive force and violated his training. And a number of medical experts called by prosecutors have said Floyd died from a lack of oxygen because the way he was restrained restricted his breathing.
Fowler handled a case similar to Floyd’s in Maryland in 2018, when a 19-year-old Black man, Anton Black, died after three officers and a civilian pinned him for more than five minutes as they handcuffed him and shackled his legs.
The family brought a federal lawsuit that included Fowler, whose autopsy found that the stress of the struggle probably contributed to Black’s death but found no evidence that restraint directly caused it. It also found no evidence of asphyxia.
Chauvin, a 45-year-old white man, is on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after his arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market. The video of his slow-motion death as he gasped that he couldn’t breathe touched off worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the U.S.
The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will take the stand.
Testifying could open him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video and forcing Chauvin, one freeze-frame moment at a time, to explain why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But taking the stand could also give the jury the opportunity to see and hear any remorse or sympathy Chauvin might feel. He would be able to take off the COVID-19 mask that he has to wear while seated at the defense table.
The only time Chauvin has been heard publicly defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Earlier Wednesday, Judge Peter Cahill turned down a defense request to acquit Chauvin, rejecting claims that prosecutors failed to prove Chauvin’s actions killed Floyd. Requests for an acquittal are routinely made midway through a trial and are usually denied.
The defense began its case on Tuesday with Nelson going straight to the question at the center of the trial — whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable.
Police officers are allowed certain latitude to use force. Legal experts say a key issue for the jury will be whether the officer’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
A use-of-force expert for the defense, Barry Brodd, testified Tuesday that Chauvin was justified in keeping Floyd pinned to the pavement, saying Floyd kept on struggling.
Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, California, police officer, also said the bystanders yelling at police to get off Floyd complicated the situation for Chauvin and the others by causing them to wonder whether the crowd was becoming a threat, too.
Brodd also appeared to endorse what prosecution witnesses have said is a common misconception: that if someone can talk, he or she can breathe.
Tuesday April 13, 2021
Prosecutors rest their case against ex-cop in Floyd’s death
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin after 11 days of testimony and a mountain of video depicting George Floyd’s final moments, opening the way for the defense to present its side.
Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the now-fired white officer did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and a heart condition, not because of Chauvin pinning him to the pavement last May.
During the prosecution side of the case, the wrenching video of Floyd gasping for air was played for the jury along with other bystander footage and police body-camera video of the 46-year-old Black man’s slow-motion death.
Law enforcement experts and veteran Minneapolis police officials, including the police chief himself, testified that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for as much as 9 1/2 minutes was excessive and contrary to his training and departmental policy.
And medical experts testified that Floyd died of lack of oxygen because his breathing was constricted as police held him down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back and his face jammed against the ground.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson hasn’t said whether Chauvin will take the stand. Testifying could open him up to devastating cross-examination but could also give the jury the opportunity to see any remorse or sympathy on the officer’s part.
Prosecutors effectively wrapped up their case on Monday with George Floyd’s younger brother Philonise, 39, alternately smiling and tearing up as he recalled Floyd, followed by testimony from a use-of-force expert who said Chauvin’s actions were clearly unreasonable.
Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, judged Chauvin’s actions against what a reasonable police officer in the same situation would have done, and repeatedly found that Chauvin did not meet the test.
“No reasonable officer would have believed that that was an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force,” Stoughton said of the way Floyd was held down.
He said, too, that the failure to roll Floyd over and render aid “as his increasing medical distress became obvious” was unreasonable.
He said it was unreasonable as well to think that Floyd might harm officers or escape after he had been handcuffed to the ground. And in yet another blow to Chauvin’s defense, Stoughton said a reasonable officer would not have viewed the yelling bystanders as a threat.
The matter of what is reasonable carries great weight: Police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger. But legal experts say a key question for the jury will be whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
Monday April 12, 2021
Prosecution case nears end in ex-cop’s trial in Floyd death
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd ‘s death enters its third week Monday, with the state nearing the end of a case built on searing witness accounts, official rejections of the neck restraint and expert testimony attributing Floyd’s death to a lack of oxygen.
Derek Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s May 25 death. Police were called to a neighborhood market where Floyd, who was Black, was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit bill. Bystander video of Floyd, pinned by Chauvin and two other officers as he cried “I can’t breathe” and eventually grew still, sparked protests and scattered violence around the U.S.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson argues that Floyd’s death was caused by drug use and underlying health conditions including a bad heart. He’s expected to call his own medical experts after the prosecution wraps its case, expected early this week. Nelson hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify.
Testimony will resume after an evening of unrest in Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis, following the death of a Black man shot by police in a traffic stop Sunday. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the city’s police station after Daunte Wright’s death, officers fired gas and flash-bang grenades and some businesses were broken into, recalling some of the violence that followed Floyd’s death last May.
Judge Peter Cahill has asked jurors to avoid news during Chauvin’s trial.
The second week of the trial was dominated by technical testimony, beginning with senior Minneapolis Police Department officials, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, testifying that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd violated department policy.
Prosecutors say Floyd was pinned for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Police officials testified that while officers might sometimes use a knee across a person’s back or shoulder to gain or maintain control, they’re also taught the specific dangers for a person in Floyd’s position — prone on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him — and how such a person must be turned into a side recovery position as soon as possible.
Prosecutors called a string of medical experts to testify that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, led by Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist who walked jurors through graphics and charts and had them feel their own necks as he analyzed evidence from videos.
Tobin testified that other factors, not just Chauvin’s knee, made it hard for Floyd to breathe: officers lifting up his handcuffs, the hard pavement, his turned head and a knee on his back. He pinpointed the moment when he said he could see Floyd take his last breath — and said Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck another 3 minutes, 2 seconds.
“At the beginning, you can see he’s conscious, you can see slight flickering, and then it disappears,” Tobin said as he highlighted a still image from police body-camera video. “That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.”
Nelson sought to raise doubt about the prosecution’s case. During testimony about Chauvin’s use of the neck restraint, he sought to point out moments in video footage when he said Chauvin’s knee didn’t appear to be on Floyd’s neck. And he again questioned officers about how a gathering crowd might affect officers’ use of force.
A potential gap in prosecutors’ case appeared Friday when Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, testified that the way police held Floyd down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take” given his heart issues.
Baker didn’t attribute Floyd’s death to asphyxia, as several prosecution medical experts did. And while he said that neither Floyd’s heart problems nor drugs caused his death, he agreed with Nelson that those factors “played a role” in the death.
Ted Sampsell-Jones, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, said Baker’s testimony might raise a reasonable doubt about cause of death, but that the legal standard for establishing causation is quite low. The state has to show only that Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial contributing cause.
“If the state had to show that Chauvin’s conduct was the sole or even primary cause of death, the case would be in real trouble,” Sampsell-Jones said.
Friday April 9, 2021
Expert: Lack of oxygen killed George Floyd, not drugs
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — George Floyd died of a lack of oxygen from the way he was held down by police, a retired forensic pathologist testified Friday at former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
The testimony of Lindsey Thomas, who retired in 2017 from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office in Minneapolis, bolstered the findings of other experts on Thursday who rejected the defense theory that Floyd’s drug use and underlying health problems killed him.
Thomas did not work on Floyd’s case but agreed with her former colleague Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker that Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest complicated by the way law enforcement restrained him and compressed his neck.
But she went further in saying “the primary mechanism of death is asphyxia, or low oxygen.”
“This is a death where both the heart and lungs stopped working. The point is, it’s due to law enforcement subdual, restraint and compression,” Thomas said. “The activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death.”
Thomas said she reached her conclusion primarily from the video, which showed Floyd “in a position where he was unable to adequately breathe.”
The autopsy itself ruled out heart attack, aneurysm, COVID-19 and other factors, and Thomas said it was not a drug overdose death, either.
“There is no evidence to suggest he would have died that night except for the interactions with law enforcement,” she said.
Baker was expected to testify later.
Thomas’ testimony came a day after other medical experts also said Floyd died of a lack of oxygen.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” prosecution witness Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Loyola University’s medical school in Illinois, testified Thursday.
Tobin said the lack of oxygen resulted in brain damage and caused Floyd’s heart to stop.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25 after kneeling on him for what prosecutors say was 9 1/2 minutes. Floyd was arrested outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
Bystander video of Floyd crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers yelled at the white officer to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence around the U.S.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was caused by illegal drugs and underlying medical problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Floyd’s death certificate listed other contributing conditions: narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use. But Thomas said that they did not directly cause his death and that such factors are commonly included on death certificates to inform public health officials.
Instead, Floyd died because the position of his body — lying on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back and officers pressing their body weight into him — made it impossible to breathe, said Thomas, who called Floyd’s death “so well-documented” because of extensive video evidence.
On Thursday, Tobin used easy-to-understand language and even loosened his tie to explain medical concepts, telling the jury that Floyd’s breathing was severely constricted while Chauvin and two other Minneapolis officers held the 46-year-old Black man down.
Tobin, analyzing images of the three officers restraining Floyd for what prosecutors say was almost 9 1/2 minutes, testified that Chauvin’s knee was “virtually on the neck” more than 90% of the time.
He said several other factors also made it difficult for Floyd to breathe: officers lifting up on the suspect’s handcuffs, the hard pavement, his prone position, his turned head and a knee on his back.
Tobin also testified that just because Floyd was talking and can be seen moving on video doesn’t mean he was breathing adequately. He said a leg movement seen in the footage was an involuntary sign of a fatal brain injury, and that a person can continue to speak until the airway narrows to 15%, after which “you are in deep trouble.”
Officers can be heard on video telling Floyd that if he can talk, he can breathe.
Thursday April 8, 2021
Courtroom technology on display in Chauvin trial
CHICAGO (AP) — The foundation of the case against the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd is a mountain of video evidence, but presenting that to jurors isn’t as easy as pushing play.
Over and over, prosecutors have shown video from surveillance cameras, bystanders’ cellphones and police body and dash cameras, and have asked witnesses to annotate footage or photographs and narrate the action on screen.
Large screens or projectors are fixtures of modern courtrooms, alongside software similar to PowerPoint designed for courtroom presentation of videos, photos and other evidence. But the quality of that technology and attorneys’ use of it varies.
WHAT’S IN THE COURTROOM?
The courtroom being used for Derek Chauvin ‘s trial is the largest and only one in the Hennepin County courthouse equipped with the tools to present and annotate video and other visual evidence.
Jurors are able to see evidence on three monitors.
A touchscreen monitor is positioned at the witness stand. Prosecutors have been asking witnesses to circle themselves or point out details using a stylus.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill has a monitor at his bench, and he’s able to control when a witness’ annotations are visible to the courtroom.
Prosecutors have played dozens of video clips from bystanders’ cellphones, the cameras Chauvin and other officers wore, and surveillance cameras on the street and inside the neighborhood store where Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
They have used a picture-in-picture feature to play cellphone videos of Floyd and the officers beside an uninterrupted feed of the street from a surveillance camera, giving jurors a view from multiple perspectives and clarifying the context of the bystander videos.
The defense has yet to begin presenting its case but Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has indicated he will also rely on video evidence to show his client is not guilty.
Cahill and the attorneys also use a system of headphones and microphones that allows them to speak privately and remain socially distanced, instead of approaching the judge’s bench.
IS SUCH COURTROOM TECHNOLOGY TYPICAL?
The pandemic has forced many courts to quickly embrace technology, and some hope those positive experiences will inspire more attorneys to use tech tools as they return to courtrooms.
But many attorneys don’t have the time and resources to prepare a presentation to the level of detail seen in the Chauvin case, said Jessica Silbey, a professor at the Boston University School of Law.
Michael Moore, the Beadle County State’s Attorney in eastern South Dakota, said cost is the top deterrent for many attorneys, followed by discomfort.
Moore said he frequently uses software to create timelines, display documents and other visual evidence in cases. He believes it’s easier for jurors to follow his arguments and it saves time at trial compared to old-school handouts of photos or documents.
But more often than not, Moore said, courtrooms are not “wired” for lawyers who embrace such tools. Moore brings his own flat screen monitor to some trials to ensure jurors have a good view.
It’s difficult to know how many courthouses in the U.S. can accommodate such technology.
Fred Lederer, director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology at William & Mary Law School, said decisions about purchasing the equipment — which has been around since the early 1990s — often involve judges and court administrators, local elected officials and IT staff, and can be “immensely complicated.”
WHY DO THESE TOOLS MATTER?
Prosecutors made no secret of their strategy to keep jurors’ focus on video evidence capturing Chauvin’s actions. During opening statements, prosecutors played the full video of the encounter and emphasized that the officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.
Lawyers arguing a case involving critical video evidence cannot assume that everyone views it through the same lens. Silbey said. They have to focus jurors’ attention by slowing footage down, circling or highlighting an event, and narrating what is happening.
“Lawyers make a mistake if they assume people see what they see and that the video speaks for itself,” Silbey said.
People understand and remember information more easily when it’s accompanied by a visual aid, Lederer said.
“Presenting information visually enables judges and jurors to better understand what’s happening,” he said. “And from a lawyer’s standpoint, if you have good evidence, you can persuade better.”
Attorneys have to walk a rigid line, though. One memorable misstep triggered a New Jersey Supreme Court review and led justices to overturn a bank robbery conviction in January.
The prosecutor improperly used an image of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” in a slide displayed during her closing argument, the court found.
“Visual aids such as PowerPoint presentations must adhere to the same standards as counsels’ spoken words,” the opinion read.
Wednesday April 7, 2021
Expert: Chauvin never took knee off Floyd’s neck
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck — and was bearing down with most of his weight — the entire time the Black man lay facedown with his hands cuffed behind his back, a use-of-force expert testified Wednesday at Chauvin’s murder trial.
Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution witness, said that based on his review of video evidence, Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck from the time officers put Floyd on the ground until paramedics arrived — about 9 1/2 minutes, by prosecutors’ reckoning.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher showed jurors a composite image of five photos taken from various videos of the arrest. Stiger went through each photo, saying it appeared that the Minneapolis officer’s left knee was on Floyd’s neck or neck area in each one.
“That particular force did not change during the entire restraint period?” Schleicher asked.
“Correct,” Stiger replied.
Stiger’s testimony came a day after Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson sought to point out moments in the video footage when, he said, Chauvin’s knee did not appear to be on Floyd’s neck.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. Floyd, 46, was arrested outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. A panicky-sounding Floyd writhed and claimed to be claustrophobic as police tried to put him in the squad car, and they put him down on the pavement.
Bystander video of Floyd crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence around the U.S. and triggered a reckoning over racism and police brutality.
Nelson has argued that the now-fired white officer “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career,” and he has suggested that the illegal drugs in Floyd’s system and his underlying health conditions are what killed him, not Chauvin’s knee.
Nelson has also contended that the officers on the scene perceived the onlookers as an increasingly hostile crowd and were distracted by them. On Tuesday, the defense attorney got some police witnesses to acknowledge that jeering onlookers can make it more difficult for officers to do their duty.
But on Wednesday, Stiger told the jury, “I did not perceive them as being a threat,” even though some onlookers were name-calling and using foul language. He added that most of the yelling was due to “their concern for Mr. Floyd.”
Stiger also testified that Chauvin squeezed Floyd’s fingers and pulled one of his wrists toward his handcuffs, a technique that uses pain to get someone to comply, but he did not appear to let up while Floyd was restrained.
“Then at that point it’s just pain,” Stiger said.
During cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer noted that dispatchers had described Floyd as between 6 feet and 6-foot-6 and possibly under the influence. Stiger agreed it was reasonable for Chauvin to come to the scene with a heightened sense of awareness.
Stiger also agreed with Nelson that an officer’s actions must be viewed from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene, not in hindsight.
The defense attorney also suggested that when Chauvin told Floyd to “relax,” he was trying to calm him down and reassure him. And Nelson said that given typical EMS response times, it was reasonable for Chauvin to believe that paramedics would be there soon.
It was Stiger’s second day on the stand. On Tuesday, he testified that the force used against Floyd was excessive. He said police were justified in using force while Floyd was resisting their efforts to put him in a squad car. But once Floyd was on the ground and stopped resisting, officers “should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.”
Instead of closing ranks to protect a fellow officer behind what has been dubbed the “blue wall of silence,” some of the most experienced members of the Minneapolis force, including the police chief, have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s actions as excessive and contrary to his training and departmental policy.
According to testimony and records submitted in court, Chauvin underwent training in 2016 and 2018 in de-escalation techniques to calm down people in crisis and instruction in how officers must use the least amount of force required to get a suspect to comply.
Tuesday April 6, 2021
Police official: Chauvin was trained to defuse situations
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Four years before George Floyd’s death, Officer Derek Chauvin took a 40-hour course on crisis intervention that included training on how to recognize people in crisis and how to use de-escalation techniques to calm them down, the jury at Chauvin’s murder trial was told Tuesday.
Sgt. Ker Yang, the Minneapolis police official in charge of training officers on handling crises, became the latest member of the department to take the stand as prosecutors try to prove that Chauvin failed to follow his training when he put his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Yang said on Day Seven of Chauvin’s trial that officers are taught to make critical decisions in dealing with people in crisis, including those suffering mental problems or the effects of drug use, and then defuse the situation. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said records show that Chauvin attended a course on the method in 2016.
“When we talk about fast-evolving situations … a lot of the time we have the time to slow things down and reevaluate and reassess and go through this model,” Yang said.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. The 46-year-old Black man was pinned to the pavement outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes.
Floyd’s treatment by the white officer was captured on widely seen bystander video that sparked protests around the U.S. that descended into violence in some cases.
Floyd, who had taken drugs, frantically struggled with officers who tried to put him in their squad car, saying he was claustrophobic. Prosecutors said Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, after he was handcuffed behind his back and lying on his stomach, even though Floyd said 27 times that he could not breathe.
Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, has argued that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career” and that it was Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions — not the officer’s knee — that killed him.
Nelson has further argued that police at the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd of onlookers.
Under questioning from Nelson, Yang testified that people watching an arrest may also be in crisis and that officers have to take in the situation around them as well.
Instead of protecting a fellow officer in what is sometimes called the “blue wall of silence,” some of the most experienced members of the Minneapolis force – including the police chief and the head of the homicide division — have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd.
On Monday, Police Chief Medaria Arrondondo, who called Floyd’s death “murder” soon after it happened, testified that Chauvin had clearly violated department policy on a number of counts and used excessive force.
Arrondondo said continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck once he was handcuffed behind his back and lying on his belly was “in no way, shape or form” part of department policy or training, “and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Arradondo, the city’s first Black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death.
Monday April 5, 2021
Police chief: Kneeling on Floyd’s neck violated policy
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis police chief testified Monday that now-fired Officer Derek Chauvin violated departmental policy in pinning his knee on George Floyd’s neck and keeping him down after Floyd had stopped resisting and was in distress.
Continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck once he was handcuffed behind his back and lying on his stomach was “in no way, shape or form” part of department policy or training, “and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.
Arradondo, the city’s first Black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death last May, and in June called it “murder.”
His testimony came after the emergency room doctor who pronounced Floyd dead testified that he theorized at the time that Floyd’s heart most likely stopped because of a lack of oxygen.
Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, who was a senior resident on duty that night at Hennepin County Medical Center and tried to resuscitate Floyd, took the stand at the beginning of Week Two at Chauvin’s murder trial, as prosecutors sought to establish that it was Chauvin’s knee on the Black man’s neck that killed him.
Langenfeld said Floyd’s heart had stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital. The doctor said that he was not told of any efforts at the scene by bystanders or police to resuscitate Floyd but that paramedics told him they had tried for about 30 minutes.
Under questioning by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, Langenfeld said that based on the information he had, it was “more likely than the other possibilities” that Floyd’s cardiac arrest — the stopping of his heart — was caused by asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. The white officer is accused of digging his knee into the 46-year-old man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, outside a corner market, where Floyd had been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes.
The defense argues that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson questioned Langenfeld about whether some drugs can cause hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen. The doctor acknowledged that fentanyl and methamphetamine, both of which were found in Floyd’s body, can do so.
The county medical examiner’s office ultimately classified Floyd’s death a homicide — that is, a death at the hands of someone else.
The full report said Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” A summary report listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” but not under “cause of death.”
Under cross-examination from Nelson, Langenfeld said Floyd’s carbon dioxide levels were more than twice as high as levels in a healthy person, and he agreed that that could be attributed to a respiratory problem. But on questioning from the prosecutor, the doctor said the high levels were also consistent with cardiac arrest.
Langenfeld also testified that neither he nor paramedics administered a drug that would reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The doctor said giving Narcan once a patient is in cardiac arrest would provide no benefit.
Floyd’s treatment by police was captured on widely seen bystander video that sparked protests that rocked Minneapolis and quickly spread to other U.S. cities and beyond and descended into violence in some cases.
Langenfeld said that “any amount of time” a patient spends in cardiac arrest without immediate CPR decreases the chance of a good outcome. He said there is an approximately 10% to 15% decrease in survival for every minute that CPR is not administered.
Prosecutors in the second week of the trial are also expected to zero in on Chauvin’s training in the use of force.
Arradondo also testified about police policy that dictates that whenever it is reasonable to do so, officers must use tactics to deescalate a situation so as to avoid or minimize the use of force.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher noted that while some people may become more dangerous under the influence of drugs or alcohol, some may actually be “more vulnerable.” Arradondo agreed and acknowledged that this must also be taken into consideration when officers decide to use force.
“It’s recognizing that when we get the call from our communities, it may not often be their best day, and they may be experiencing something that’s very traumatic,” the chief said.
Before he was pinned to the ground, a handcuffed and frantic Floyd struggled with police who were trying to put him in a squad car, saying he was claustrophobic.
Arradondo said officers are trained in basic first aid, including chest compressions, and department policy requires them to request medical assistance and provide necessary aid as soon as possible before paramedics arrive.
Officers’ first aid training is “very vital because those seconds are vital,” Arradondo said, adding: “And so we absolutely have a duty to render that.”
Officers kept restraining Floyd — with Chauvin kneeling on his neck, another kneeling on Floyd’s back and a third holding his feet — until the ambulance arrived, even after he became unresponsive, according to testimony and video footage.
One officer asked twice if they should roll Floyd on his side to aid his breathing, and later said calmly that he thought Floyd was passing out. Another checked Floyd’s wrist for a pulse and said he couldn’t find one.
The officers also rebuffed offers of help from an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter who wanted to administer aid or tell officers how to do it.
The city moved soon after Floyd’s death to ban police chokeholds and neck restraints. Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey also made several policy changes, including expanding requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents and documenting attempts to de-escalate situations.
Prosecutors have already called supervisory officers to build the case that Chauvin improperly restrained Floyd. A duty sergeant and a lieutenant who leads the homicide division both questioned Chauvin’s actions in pinning Floyd to the ground.
“Totally unnecessary,” Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-tenured officer on the force, testified Friday.
Trial in Floyd’s death expected to turn to ex-cop’s training
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in George Floyd’s death is expected to turn toward the officer’s training on Monday after a first week that was dominated by emotional testimony from eyewitnesses and devastating video of Floyd’s arrest.
Derek Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd. Chauvin, who is white, is accused of pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds as Floyd lay face-down in handcuffs outside of a corner market.
Prosecutors say Chauvin’s knee killed Floyd. The defense argues that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s use of drugs and underlying health conditions caused his death.
Floyd’s treatment by police was captured on widely seen bystander video that soon sparked protests that rocked Minneapolis and quickly spread to other U.S. cities and beyond. The video, plus officers’ body-camera video and previously unseen bystander footage, was a heavy component of the first week of the trial, reawakening traumatic memories for viewers of the livestreamed trial.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is expected to testify during the trial’s second week, perhaps as early as Monday. Arradondo, the city’s first Black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death, and in June called it “murder.”
“Mr. George Floyd’s tragic death was not due to a lack of training — the training was there,” Arradondo said then. “Chauvin knew what he was doing.”
The city moved soon after Floyd’s death to ban police chokeholds and neck restraints. Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have also made several policy changes, including expanding requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents and documenting their attempts to de-escalate situations even when force isn’t used.
Prosecutors have already called supervisory officers to build the case that Chauvin improperly restrained Floyd. A duty sergeant and a lieutenant who leads the homicide division both questioned Chauvin’s actions in pinning Floyd after officers responded to a report that Floyd had passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
“Totally unnecessary,” Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-tenured officer on the force, testified Friday. He said once Floyd was handcuffed, he saw “no reason for why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force.”
Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985, said he has never been trained to kneel on someone’s neck if their hands are cuffed behind their back and they are in the prone position. Officers are supposed to get a person out of the position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing, he said.
Instead, officers continued to restrain Floyd until an ambulance arrived — even after he became unresponsive.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson peppered Zimmerman with questions about the threat a handcuffed suspect might still pose, as well as whether handcuffs might fail. Nelson has also suggested that bystanders shouting at police might have distracted them from Floyd and made them feel threatened.
Jurors heard several days of testimony from those bystanders, several choking up as they recalled feeling powerless to help Floyd and guilt over his death.
Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who came on the scene as she was out for a walk, said she immediately recognized Floyd was in trouble and tried to offer help. Instead, Officer Tou Thao ordered her to stay on the sidewalk. Hansen, who was mostly stoic while testifying, was overcome as she recalled her frustration.
“There was a man being killed,” she said. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities. And this human was denied that right.”
Friday April 2, 2021
Duty sergeant: Officers could have ended Floyd restraint
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis police supervisory sergeant who was on duty the night George Floyd died testified that he believes the officers who restrained Floyd could have ended it after he stopped resisting.
David Pleoger testified Thursday at the trial of since-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He noted that officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said.
“And that was after he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?” prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked.
“Correct,” replied Pleoger, who’s now retired.
Chauvin, 45 and white, is accused of killing Floyd by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market.
His death triggered large protests around the U.S., scattered violence and widespread soul-searching over racism and police brutality. The most serious charge against Chauvin carries up to 40 years in prison.
On Friday, Minneapolis police Sgt. Jon Edwards, the overnight supervisor the night Floyd died, said he secured the scene at the request of Pleoger, who was still at the hospital with Floyd. Edwards said Pleoger told him the encounter had the potential to become a “critical incident,” which could mean someone died or was injured and might later die.
Edwards, who was not Chauvin’s supervisor, said he didn’t have details about what happened at that time but arrived to find two of the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest — Thomas Lane and J. Kueng — still at the intersection, and had them put up crime scene tape.
He called other officers to the scene and instructed them to go door to door looking for possible witnesses. Edwards learned later that Floyd had died, after homicide investigators arrived.
Thursday’s testimony began with Floyd’s girlfriend tearfully telling the jury how they met in 2017 — at a Salvation Army shelter where he was a security guard with “this great, deep Southern voice, raspy” — and how they both struggled with an addiction to painkillers.
“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” 45-year-old Courteney Ross said.
She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
Prosecutors put Ross on the stand in an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also explain his drug use.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he encountered Floyd last May and that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs, his underlying health conditions and his own adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Ross said she and Floyd struggled with addiction throughout their relationship — testimony that could help prosecutors blunt the argument that drugs killed Floyd. Medical experts have said that while the level of fentanyl in his system could be fatal, people who use the drug regularly can develop a tolerance.
Ross said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and used illegal drugs.
In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she learned he had overdosed. In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean.
But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed: She said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson drove hard at Floyd’s drug use in cross-examining Ross, asking questions aimed at showing the danger of overdose and death.
Under questioning from Nelson, Ross also disclosed that Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” — testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
Also Thursday, a paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 — a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.
Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Floyd was breathing or moving, and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest. A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and couldn’t detect one: “In layman’s terms? I thought he was dead.”
Bravinder said they loaded Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care “in an optimum environment,” but also because bystanders “appeared very upset on the sidewalk,” and there was some yelling. “In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that,” he said.
Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed around 15 onlookers near where Floyd lay.
Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in back to help his partner, a monitor showed Floyd’s heart was not beating. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.
On cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer questioned why the ambulance did not go straight to the hospital, and he pressed Smith on Floyd’s condition as he lay on the pavement. The paramedic expressed himself in blunt terms, saying Floyd was “dead” or “deceased.”
Ross began her testimony by describing how she and Floyd met while she visited the Salvation Army shelter to speak to her sons’ father, but got upset when he did not come to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday. Floyd came over to check on her and offered to pray with her, she said.
“This kind person, just to come up to me and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ when I felt alone in this lobby, it was so sweet,” she said.
Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony about a crime victim at trial. Defense attorneys often contend such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
Thursday April 1, 2021
George Floyd’s girlfriend recounts the couple’s drug use
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — George Floyd’s girlfriend cried on the witness stand Thursday as she told the story of how they first met in 2017 at a Salvation Army shelter where Floyd was a security guard with “this great Southern voice, raspy.” She also recounted how they both struggled with opioid addiction.
“Both Floyd and I, our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” 45-year-old Courteney Ross said on Day Four of former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
Prosecutors put Ross on the stand as part of an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also apparently explain his drug use to the jurors and perhaps get them to empathize with what he went through.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd by kneeling on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs last May. The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was caused instead by his illegal drug use, underlying health conditions and the adrenaline flowing through his body. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Under cross-examination by Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson, Ross said Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” — testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for this mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
In some of the video, Floyd can be heard calling out, “Mama!” repeatedly and saying, “Mama, I love you! … Tell my kids I love them.”
In her testimony, Ross described how both she and Floyd struggled with their addiction to painkillers throughout their relationship. She said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and also used illegal drugs.
”Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle. … It’s not something that just kind of comes and goes. It’s something I’ll deal with forever,” she said.
In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she later learned he overdosed. In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean during that time.
But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed: She said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.
Ross began her testimony by telling how the two of them met.
“May I tell the story?” she asked. “It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.”
Ross said she had gone to the shelter because her sons’ father was staying there. She said she became upset because the father was not coming to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday. Floyd came over to check on her.
“Floyd has this great Southern voice, raspy. He was like, `Sis, you OK, sis?’” Ross recalled. “I was tired. We’ve been through so much, my sons and I, and (for) this kind person just to come up and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ … it was so sweet. At the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”
Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony about a crime victim ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
Floyd’s death, along with the harrowing bystander video of him gasping for breath as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to get off him, triggered sometimes violent protests around the world and demands that the U.S. confront racism and police brutality.
Thursday’s testimony came a day after prosecutors played extensive video footage that documented the chain of events that culminated in Floyd’s death, beginning with his alleged use of a counterfeit $20 ;bill at a neighborhood market to pay for a pack of cigarettes.
Bystander and police bodycam video showed officers pulling Floyd from his SUV at gunpoint, then struggling to put him in the back of the squad car as a panicky-sounding Floyd writhed and cried, “I’m claustrophobic!” The footage also showed Floyd being loaded into an ambulance.
When Floyd was finally taken away, a bystander objected to what Chauvin had done.
“That’s one person’s opinion,” Chauvin could be heard responding. “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy… and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Floyd was 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, according to the autopsy. Chauvin’s lawyer said the officer is 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds.
Wednesday March 31, 2021
Firefighter blocked from helping Floyd returns to stand
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis firefighter who voiced frustration at being prevented from using her EMT training to help George Floyd will be back on the stand Wednesday in the trial of the fired police officer charged in Floyd’s death.
Genevieve Hansen, one of several bystanders seen and heard shouting at Derek Chauvin as he pinned Floyd facedown outside a convenience store last May, cried Tuesday as she recounted how she was unable to come to Floyd’s aid or tell police what to do, such as administering chest compressions.
“There was a man being killed,” said Hansen, who testified in her dress uniform and detailed her emergency medical technician training. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities. And this human was denied that right.”
Hansen was among several onlookers to testify Tuesday to what they saw of Floyd’s May 25 death. They described their increasing frustration, anger and despair as they begged Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck.
Witness after witness described how Chauvin was unmoved by their pleas, including the teenager who shot the harrowing video of the arrest that set off nationwide protests. She said the officer gave the crowd a “cold” and “heartless” stare.
“He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” said 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, one of several witnesses who testified through tears.
Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd while fellow Officer Tou Thao held the crowd of about 15 back, even when Hansen identified herself as a firefighter and pleaded repeatedly to check Floyd’s pulse, according to witnesses and bystander video.
“They definitely put their hands on the Mace, and we all pulled back,” Frazier told the jury.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd by pinning the 46-year-old handcuffed Black man to the pavement for what prosecutors said was 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Floyd was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the convenience store.
Floyd’s death, along with the bystander video of him pleading that he couldn’t breathe, triggered sometimes violent protests around the world and a reckoning over racism and police brutality across the U.S.
The most serious charge against Chauvin carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what his training told him to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer but by a combination of illegal drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body.
On Tuesday, the prosecution asked multiple witnesses to describe their horror at what they saw, buttressing the testimony with multiple videos, some of which had never been seen before. Many described feeling helpless and guilty as Floyd gasped for air, pleaded for his life and finally fell limp and silent, his eyes rolling back in his head.
The testimony was apparently aimed at showing that Chauvin had multiple opportunities to think about what he was doing and change course.
But Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson sought to portray the onlookers as angry and agitated, in an apparent attempt to show that the crowd posed a potential threat to police that might have distracted them during their encounter with Floyd.
Hansen testified that the crowd was getting more upset and that the paramedics did a “load and go”— placing Floyd on a stretcher and quickly getting him away from the crowd so he could be treated elsewhere.
Earlier Tuesday, Donald Williams, one of the onlookers, testified that he called 911 after paramedics took Floyd away, “because I believed I witnessed a murder.” In a recording of the emergency call, Williams can be overheard yelling at the officers: “Y’all is murderers, bro!”
During cross-examination, Nelson pointed out that Williams seemed to grow increasingly angry at the police, calling Chauvin “tough guy,” “bum” and other names, then calling Chauvin expletives, which the defense lawyer repeated in court.
Williams, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, initially admitted he was getting angrier, but then backtracked and said he was controlled and professional, and was pleading for Floyd’s life but wasn’t being heard.
Williams said he was stepping on and off the curb, and at one point, Thao put his hand on Williams’ chest. Williams admitted that he told Thao he would beat the officers if Thao touched him again.
But witnesses also testified that no bystanders interfered with police.
When Frazier was asked by a prosecutor whether she saw violence anywhere on the scene, she replied: “Yes, from the cops. From Chauvin, and from officer Thao.”
Also Tuesday, prosecutors played cellphone video recorded by another bystander, 18-year-old Alyssa Funari, that showed onlookers shouting and screaming at Chauvin after Floyd stopped moving. The footage also showed Hansen, the Minneapolis firefighter, calmly walk up to Thao and offer to help. He ordered her to get back on the sidewalk.
“I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do as a bystander,” a tearful Funari said, adding that she felt she was failing Floyd. “Technically I could’ve did something, but I couldn’t really do anything physically … because the highest power was there at the time,” she said, referring to the police.
Frazier testified that she looks at her father and other Black men in her life and thinks of “how that could have been one of them.”
“I stay up at night apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more … not saving his life,” she said, adding of Chauvin: “It’s not what I should have done; it’s what he should have done.”
Tuesday March 30, 2021
Witness: Officer in Floyd case gave onlookers a ‘cold’ stare
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As onlookers pleaded with Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck, Chauvin just gave them a “cold” and “heartless” stare, the teenager who shot the harrowing video of the arrest testified Tuesday at Chauvin’s murder trial.
In sometimes-tearful testimony, Darnella Frazier, 18, said Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck and fellow officer Tou Thao wouldn’t let onlookers get close, even when one of them identified herself as a firefighter and begged repeatedly to check Floyd’s pulse.
“They definitely put their hands on the Mace, and we all pulled back,” Frazier told the jury.
Frazier said of Chauvin: “He just stared at us, looked at us. He had like this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying.”
Floyd’s death last May, along with the video of the Black man pleading that he couldn’t breathe and onlookers angrily yelling at the white officer to get off him, triggered sometimes-violent protests around the world and a reckoning over racism and police brutality across the U.S.
Frazier testified that she began recording the scene because “it wasn’t right, he was suffering, he was in pain.”
She said she had walked to a convenience store with her 9-year-old cousin when she came upon the officers, and sent the girl inside because she didn’t want her to see “a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.”
Frazier breathed heavily and wept as she viewed pictures of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd and after a prosecutor asked her to describe how the encounter changed her life.
She said she looks at her father and other Black men in her life, and “how that could have been one of them.”
“I stay up at night apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more … not saving his life,” she said, adding of Chauvin: “It’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done.”
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson sought repeatedly to show that Chauvin and his fellow officers found themselves in an increasingly tense and distracting situation, with the growing crowd of onlookers becoming agitated and menacing over Floyd’s treatment.
Under cross-examination from Nelson, Frazier said bystanders became increasingly upset by what they were seeing and got louder and louder, “more so as he was becoming more unresponsive.”
But when Frazier was asked by a prosecutor whether she saw violence anywhere on the scene, she replied: “Yes, from the cops. From Chauvin, and from officer Thao.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd by pinning the 46-year-old handcuffed man to the pavement for what prosecutors said was 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the convenience store.
The most serious charge against the now-fired officer carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what his training told him to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer but by a combination of illegal drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body.
When Frazier was asked to identify Chauvin in the pandemic-spaced courtroom, the officer stood up and took off his mask, appearing somber as he looked down and away.
Earlier Tuesday, Donald Williams, another one of the onlookers who shouted at Chauvin, testified that he called 911 after paramedics took Floyd away, “because I believed I witnessed a murder.”
Williams, a professional mixed martial arts fighter who said his training includes chokeholds, returned to the witness stand a day after describing seeing Floyd struggle for air, his eyes roll back in his head, and Floyd “slowly fade away … like a fish in a bag.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors played back Williams’ 911 call, in which a dispatcher offers to switch him to a sergeant. As he is being switched, Williams can he heard yelling at the officers at the scene, “Y’all is murderers, bro!”
During cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney pointed out that Williams seemed to grow increasingly angry at the police, taunting Chauvin with “tough guy,” “bum” and other names, then calling Chauvin expletives, which the defense lawyer repeated in court.
Williams initially admitted he was getting angrier, but then backtracked and said he was controlled and professional and was pleading for Floyd’s life but wasn’t being heard.
Williams said he was stepping on and off the curb, and at one point, Thao, who was controlling the crowd, put his hand on Williams’ chest. Williams admitted under questioning that he told Thao he would beat the officers if Thao touched him again.
Monday March 29, 2021
Witness describes seeing Floyd ‘slowly fade away’
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man who was among onlookers shouting at a Minneapolis police officer to get off George Floyd last May was to continue testifying Tuesday, a day after he described seeing Floyd struggle for air and his eyes rolling back into his head, saying he saw Floyd “slowly fade away … like a fish in a bag.”
Donald Williams, a former wrestler who said he was trained in mixed martial arts including chokeholds, testified Monday that he thought Derek Chauvin used a shimmying motion several times to increase the pressure on Floyd. He said he yelled to the officer that he was cutting off Floyd’s blood supply.
Williams recalled that Floyd’s voice grew thicker as his breathing became more labored, and he eventually stopped moving.
“From there on he was lifeless,” Williams said. “He didn’t move, he didn’t speak, he didn’t have no life in him no more on his body movements.”
Williams was among the first prosecution witnesses as trial opened for Chauvin, 45, who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Prosecutors led off their case by playing part of the bystander video that captured Floyd’s arrest on May 25. Chauvin and three other officers were fired soon after the video touched off outrage and protest, sometimes violent, that spread from Minneapolis around the world.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell showed the jurors the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, after telling them that the number to remember was 9 minutes, 29 seconds — the amount of time Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement last May.
The white officer “didn’t let up” even after a handcuffed Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and went limp, Blackwell said.
“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him,” the prosecutor said.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing: “Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career.”
Floyd was fighting efforts to put him in a squad car as the crowd of onlookers around Chauvin and his fellow officers grew and became increasingly hostile, Nelson said.
The defense attorney also disputed that Chauvin was to blame for Floyd’s death.
Floyd, 46, had none of the telltale signs of asphyxiation and he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, Nelson said. He said Floyd’s drug use, combined with his heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body, caused a heart rhythm disturbance that killed him.
“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”
Blackwell, however, rejected the argument that Floyd’s drug use or any underlying health conditions were to blame, saying it was the officer’s knee that killed him.
Minneapolis police dispatcher Jena Scurry testified that she saw part of Floyd’s arrest unfolding via a city surveillance camera and was so disturbed that she called a duty sergeant. Scurry said she grew concerned because the officers hadn’t moved after several minutes.
“You can call me a snitch if you want to,” Scurry said in her call to the sergeant, which was played in court. She said she wouldn’t normally call the sergeant about the use of force because it was beyond the scope of her duties, but “my instincts were telling me that something is wrong.”
The video played during opening statements was posted to Facebook by a bystander who witnessed Floyd being arrested after he was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Jurors watched intently as the video played on multiple screens, with one drawing a sharp breath as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin sat quietly and took notes, looking up at the video periodically.
“My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts,” Floyd says in the video, and: “I can’t breathe, officer.” Onlookers repeatedly shout at the officer to get off Floyd, saying he is not moving, breathing or resisting. One woman, identifying herself as a city Fire Department employee, shouts at Chauvin to check Floyd’s pulse.
The prosecutor said the case was “not about split-second decision-making” by a police officer but excessive force against someone who was handcuffed and not resisting.
Blackwell said the Fire Department employee wanted to help but was warned off by Chauvin, who pointed Mace at her.
“She wanted to check on his pulse, check on Mr. Floyd’s well-being,” the prosecutor said. “She did her best to intervene. … She couldn’t help.”
The timeline differs from the initial account submitted last May by prosecutors, who said Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. The time 8:46 soon became a rallying cry in the case. But it was revised during the investigation.
Fourteen jurors or alternates are hearing the case — eight of them white, six of them Black or multiracial, according to the court. Only 12 will deliberate; the judge has not said which two will be alternates.
Before the trial began, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump blasted the idea that the trial would be a tough test for jurors.
“We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case,” he said.
After the day’s proceedings, a few hundred protesters gathered outside the courthouse. Speakers called for justice for Floyd and others whose lives were lost in encounters with police. One speaker, Jaylani Hussein, shouted: “Police officers are not above the law!”
The downtown Minneapolis courthouse has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the riots that followed Floyd’s death, with National Guard troops already mobilized.
Chauvin’s trial is being livestreamed over the objections of the prosecution. Judge Peter Cahill ordered that cameras be allowed largely because of the pandemic and the required social distancing, which left almost no room for spectators in the courtroom.
Three other former officers go on trial in August because Cahill ruled there wasn’t enough space to try all four at once.